Newspaper offices attacked; correspondent threatened

New York, August 13, 2003—Armed men claiming to be supporters of Harold Keke, a rebel leader in the Solomon Islands, attacked the Bougainville offices of the daily English-language Papua New Guinea Post-Courier and threatened Gorethy Kenneth, the newspaper’s correspondent in Bougainville, on Friday, August 8.

Bougainville is an island in Papua New Guinea, across the Coral Sea from the Solomon Islands.

On the day of the attack and on August 7, the Post-Courier ran front-page articles alleging ties between Keke’s Guadalcanal Liberation Front (GLF) and the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA). The BRA is a separatist group that fought the government of Papua New Guinea in a bloody, decade-long civil war that ended in 2001 when Papua New Guinea accorded a new autonomous status to Bougainville. Both articles were written by Eric Kone, the Post-Courier‘s correspondent in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands.

According to Kenneth’s account, published in the August 11 issue of the Post-Courier, two men entered the newspaper’s office in Bougainville at on August 8 at 10 a.m. and ordered her to stop the Post-Courier from publishing articles about Keke. “We can burn down this office if you don’t obey us,” they told Kenneth, according to the newspaper. They also threatened to travel to the Solomons and kill Kone, reported Kenneth.

The two men left, but 20 minutes later several more men stormed into the office, armed with knives and a shotgun. They confronted Kenneth, throwing copies of the August 7 and August 8 issues of the Post-Courier in front of her. According to Kenneth, one of the men threatened, “We can kill you now.” When she pointed out that she was not the author of the reports and asked what was wrong with them, the man slapped her and accused her of being a spy. “I can kill you here, now, and nobody will know,” he told Kenneth, according to the Post-Courier.

The men left after vandalizing some of the office’s equipment. According to the Post-Courier‘s managing director Bob Howarth, the newspaper has closed its Bougainville office and has temporarily evacuated Kenneth to a safer location. The Post-Courier has filed a detailed report by Kenneth with the Deputy Commission of Police and is awaiting a response, Howarth told CPJ.

The Post-Courier, which is owned by media magnate Rupert Murdoch, is Papua New Guinea’s largest newspaper.